Opening speech by Princess Laurentien at the ECF Princess Margriet Award 2013

19 maart 2013

Brussels, 19 March 2013

Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, distinguished Laureates, dear friends,

Thank you for your loyal presence at the ECF Princess Margriet Awards, as we're already celebrating its 5th edition... A special words of gratitude to you, the name bearer of this award.. thank you for your inspiration for our creative journey - a journey that enriches all of us as travellers with a mission!

This year's laureates are a feast to the eyes and ears... Yoel Gamzou: the 10th Symphony of Mahler is already exhilarating, but your interpretation leaves the audience mesmorised (it certainly left me glued to my computer screen while watching you on Youtube - that's the modern world for you - I of course hope to see a live performance soon!). You once said that being an artist is less about talent than it is about the "ability to listen", and "sincerity and integrity". Hmm… I'm sure everyone here has those abilities… yet none of us does what you do… ! And Dan and Lia Perjovschi, you have said that it's ultimately more about ideas than art itself. That said, your artistic expressions - from your brilliant mindmaps to drawings and everything in between are so exciting.. And yes, you challenge - and even dismiss - fixed ideas. You make us reflect on dominant events and developments, from the Olympics to the economic crisis. Not so much by criticizing, but by making us think about what they actually mean to us.

You're also conscious of the special dynamics around young people. How to create opportunities for them to get to know master composers such as Mahler and Brahms - and classical music in general? And what can we learn from children who - like crazy people as Dan once said - don't fear the empty paper? Having the privilege myself to work with children, especially on sustainability issues, it's clear that the brainpower of children can help us. Just like artists do, they see dimensions that had not even crossed our mind. They turn a problem upside down and come up with unexpected solutions. Or better still, create fresh terminology. Take innovation. "Innovation is a cold and distant word," a boy of 9 once told me. "No wonder so many people find it hard to innovate!" His classmate continued: "Actually, innovation really means sharing. Without sharing an idea with someone else, the idea remains only an idea and becomes nothing. But not everyone finds it easy to share. To do so, you have to be open and confident. Being afraid stops you from asking questions. And if you don't ask questions, you never learn more than what you already know. So to innovate, you must not fear and admit that you don't have all the answers." …..

Similarly, this is why arts, culture and artists are invaluable to us. To show an unexpected image of reality; to visualize the road ahead. We need artists… After all, how do we know we're on the right track if no one criticizes it, gives push back or shows a different track to choose from?

What does this mean for Europe? Well, take the doom and gloom that seems to run through all the current public debates about Europe's future. The very cornerstone of Europe -  solidarity between countries - is being tested. Despite - or should I say, especially because of today's uncertainties and volatility, many citizens are in search of meaning and belonging Culture can, just as 60 years ago when the ECF was established, provide just that. Exchanging knowledge and creative ideas connects people. We should learn from people in their teens and twenties who connect all day long (which is not to say that they too, aren't in search for a stronger sense of belonging). That's why ECF has some exciting digital programmes..

So cultural exchanges connect people and nurture solidarity. But we should not confuse solidarity with a sense of shared emotions, or even with a shared understanding of the future. Isn't solidarity about dedicated efforts to something beyond our own space? And about admitting that despite any differences, we are part of the same space and thus forced to find solutions together?

Cultural expressions stimulate our imagination and help us look at developments from another perspective. Imagination helps us find the space to be curious about the unknown; be interested in others and welcome their success. Without such openness, we cannot connect. Without such openness, we cannot build bridges together or break through real or perceived boundaries. Doesn't Europe need this more than ever before?

The future of Europe is not fixed. We have to imagine where and what we want to work towards. So we all - citizens and leaders - need to be creative. We need creativity to innovate - or rather, to share, as the 9-year old boy said. We need creativity to help overcome the many challenges we face across Europe and in communities. Artists - like children - can hold up a mirror and visualize the future. Not because they're naïve - on the contrary. They lay bare the moral dilemma's we often gloss over - not least because we're using convoluted language. If we don't use words that have real meaning and touch our emotions, no wonder so many people find it hard to be moved… By touching our emotions, artistic expressions remind us that Europe is too important to be left to technocrats and politicians. Europe is its citizens, and we are Europe.

I don't know about you (it might be because I'm middle-aged - technically speaking), but I feel a strong responsibility for the generations coming after us. If we pass on messages of doom and gloom, I feel we will have failed. Stifling aspirations of young people is like taking away someone's freedom and ability to dream. If we stop dreaming, how to we ever get ahead of ourselves?

This year's laureates urge us to look critically at both our past and our future. They emphasise the urgency that dominates our lives. Dan and Lia Perjovschi and Yoel Gamzou guide us, through their art, to new and unexpected juxtapositions of ideas and cultures. In doing so, they prompt and even provoke us to draw a new set of parameters, a new mental map, towards a more inclusive, democratic and open Europe.

Creating new mental maps for our European future is also a question of rebalancing our values. Europe is a rich cultural space with a broad spectrum of values that stem not from a singular and uniform conception of life, but rather from the diversity of life, experiences and people.  The exquisite richness of Europe lies in social life and the relationships between us and our knowledge. Culture - art, music, film, poetry - is a profound medium of transmitting knowledge, one that does not prescribe a fixed hypothesis. The artist, by his or her very nature, is the social critic - the reflector, the narrator - and in a buttoned-down world - the jester - holding the mirror up to ourselves and "telling it like it is". Art enables the kind of learning that gives us insight into the inner landscapes of how people live their lives. We need to nourish and increase the spaces where a rebalancing of knowledge and this learning for understanding can take place - spaces where we can harness the vast resources of imagination and creativity.

The ECF Princess Margriet Award supports cultural expressions that open up minds towards a future-oriented and outward-looking Europe, rather than one stuck in a rut and reflecting too much on itself. If we don't do it for ourselves, let us be motivated by our responsibility for generations coming after us. As Albert Einstein said: "those with the privilege to know, have the duty to act". I wish you an exhilarating evening!

Thank you.